1-174 Editorial Note on Pershing-March Feud, 1918

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Pershing-March Feud


Palmer was a casualty in the Pershing-March feud. As early as mid-1919, James Harbord wrote to Pershing from the United States that "the higher officers of the Regular Army are lining up in two general groups," one allied with Chief of Staff Peyton March and another "wearing your A.E.F. brand.” (Harbord to Pershing, June 14, 1919, NA/RG PRSHG [J. J. Pershing Papers, Miscellaneous].) Marshall, although identified with the Pershing faction, was not March’s enemy.

In a December 7, 1956, interview, Marshall commented: “I found in going into all the papers afterwards, and in some of the actions which occurred at the time in which I saw General March personally, that he was a master administrator, an executive, with a great weakness of antagonizing everybody and, in particular, in having men about him—one in particular—who were very curt, and almost rude, in their procedure. They operated too much like General March. They needed someone of exactly opposite characteristics as the secretary of the General Staff and in other parts. I admired General March very much in his basic procedure, but I thought he almost ruined himself by his bitterness in his procedure which stuck with him to the last.” As he did not join Pershing’s staff until the feud was well along, Marshall did not know how much of the disagreement was the A.E.F. commander’s fault. “However,” he noted, “I think they were both at fault, because it was essential that they get together and they didn’t. What saved the situation was Newton Baker.” (Marshall Interviews, pp. 268-69.)

Marshall, describing Pershing’s character in a March 6, 1957, interview, related the following story of an incident which occurred while Pershing was army chief of staff. “There was something came up. General Harbord was deputy chief of staff then, and he brought it to General Pershing and they were going to change this. General Pershing had a way of sending most all of these things into me and nobody knew about it, and all he would put on the paper was ‘Colonel M.’ Then it was up to me to take a look at it and tell him what I thought. But that was never betrayed outside of the office, that I was put into this position of maybe criticizing my superiors. Well, in this particular case, he had decided in agreement with General Harbord. It was about something that General March had done, and they were changing it, and I thought they were entirely wrong. And when I got the paper with ‘Colonel M’ on it, I dictated a little memorandum to General Pershing to that effect—why I thought they were wrong and so on.

“General Pershing sent for me and when I came in, he said, ‘I don’t take to this at all—I don’t agree with you.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘let me have it, General, again, let me have it. I didn’t express myself well.’ I took it back in there and very carefully drew up my resume of the affair and why I thought it was wrong. He sent for me again and he said, ‘I don’t accept this. I think Harbord and I are right.’ I was very much upset because I thought it was entirely wrong, and I said, ‘Well now, General, I have done a poor job on this; let me have that paper again.’ So I took it back and rewrote the whole thing to give it a brand new flavor, and then I took it in and handed it to him. He read it, and he put it down and said, ‘No!’ And as I recall he slapped his hand on the desk, which is something I had never had him do before, and said, ‘No, by God, we will do it this way.’

“I got the paper back into my hand—I remember this pretty clearly—I said, ‘Now General, just because you hate the guts of General March, you’re setting yourself up—and General Harbord, who hates him, too—to do something you know damn well is wrong.’ He looked at me and handed me the paper—I didn’t have it before—and said, ‘Well, have it your own way.’ That was the end of this scene where he was bitterly determined to do this, and yet he ended up by saying, ‘have it your own way,’ which I thought was very remarkable. No prolonged feeling. Nothing. That was the end of the affair. I don’t think it was the end of the affair so far as General Harbord was concerned. But General Pershing held no [grudges] at all. He might be very firm at the time, but if you convinced him, that was the end of that. He accepted that and you went ahead.” (Ibid., pp. 112-13.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 200-201.

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